Sara Criss’ Civil Rights Memoir #62: Coming to Blows

“The FBI flocked into Greenwood after the Civil Rights Act was signed, and at one point there were nine agents here. They would observe the action at the theater and attempts made by Negroes to enter restaurants, but they were not very aggressive, and from stories that have come out in later years I feel that J. Edgar Hoover was just making a weak effort to make it look as if they were interested in seeing that the law was carried out to the letter.

“The Justice Department too had their men here and they, as a rule, were not the caliber of the FBI men. One, whose name was Rosenberg, was always trying to talk to me. He stayed here longer than any of the other Justice Department representatives. Again, I did not want De La or any of his buddies to see me conversing with Rosenberg. There was a real climate of fear in Greenwood, and in my case I was more afraid of De La and the Klan and Hardy and the Citizens Council than I was of the Negroes.

“When all of our family went to Quitman to Gage and Bill [Roberson]’s wedding that summer [1964], we had to pass through Philadelphia, which was still the center of attention after the disappearance of the three Civil Rights workers. My sister Mary and her husband Howard had come down from Ohio for the wedding and were afraid to drive through there with an Ohio tag on their car so Sheriff George Smith loaned them a Leflore County tag to make the trip. While we were gone that weekend the Mayor and Buff Hammond got into an argument about Gray [Evans] being out of town. He was still City Prosecuting Attorney. When we got back we learned that they had actually passed licks at the City Hall, and Gray and I were always sorry we had missed it because we had seen them almost come to blows before. Charley [Sampson, the Mayor] was furious because Buff would not always go along with him and his ideas on how to handle the situation.”

“[Redacted], the Circuit Clerk, was just like Sampson in that she would not dare make a decision or a statement without Hardy’s approval. She told me one day that they should add statues of Hardy and Stanny to the Confederate monument on the Court House lawn.

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About sec040121

Hello....I'm in possession of a priceless collection of memoirs and memorabilia left by my mother, Sara Evans Criss. She was a native and lifelong (88 years!) devotee of our small town, who covered this peculiar and volatile corner of the world for 30 years as the Memphis Commercial Appeal's Greenwood bureau chief, a job that started out with debutantes and high school football and wound up spang in the midst of one of the twentieth century's most enduring social upheavals. This blog is dedicated to her memory and the legacy she left behind, both for her family and her community.
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